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[MOVIE REVIEW] 'My Wife' celebrates bigamy

2008/10/22 Source

She is cool, diligent and sexy. But her real specialty is juggling her time -- between two husbands.

"My Wife Got Married" (Ane-ga Gyeolhon Haeta), directed by Jeong Yoon-soo, appears to center upon an irresistibly attractive female character who can manage two marriages at the same time, but Korean audiences, especially men, might think otherwise.

The refreshingly provocative movie, adapted from a best-selling novel of the same title by Park Hyun-wook, presents a heroine named In-ah (played by Son Ye-jin), a hardworking programmer who has no intention, at least initially, of getting married. Her life gets complicated when she encounters Deok-hoon (Kim Joo-hyuk), a former colleague, in the subway.

"My Wife Got Married"

It turns out that the two are huge soccer fans who love to spend hours talking about the European leagues and major players, throwing in all the mind-boggling statistics. Deok-hoon instantly falls in love with In-ah, which is hardly surprising. What's surprising, though, is In-ah's smooth seduction. Her punch line: "Why don't you come inside and have a cup of coffee?" Naturally, coffee at her house - which is filled with numerous used books (whose collection is her hobby) -- leads to something steamier, dragging Deok-hoon into the path of full-blown romantic passion. So far, so good. Deok-hoon believes he's finally found a soul mate. The sex is also great. But he is made increasingly antsy by her mobile phone always being off. Her frequent boozing doesn't help, not to mention not coming home until early in the morning. Deok-hoon's anxiety gets out of hand when he imagines she's offering a cup of coffee to another man.

In Korea, there is an old saying that marriage is the tomb of all the love affairs. Deok-hoon, reminded of this great wisdom by a close friend, decides to end all possibility of In-ah having relationships with other men by proposing to her.

Tenacious courtship by Deok-hoon finally bears fruit in the middle of the wild crowd cheering for the Korean squad in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup finals. As the Korean team makes it to the quarterfinals, Deok-hoon finally gets what he wants: monogamy with In-ah.

Yet the sweet honeymoon period does not last long, particularly for Deok-hoon. One day, she declares that she's going to get married to another man. Dumfounded, Deok-hoon asks her again and again about her real intentions. But In-ah remains firm. She has found a new love, but she does not want to give up on her current relationship, either.

For most Korean men accustomed to male-oriented culture, In-ah's proposal is both preposterous and rebellious, to the extent of attempting to shake up the entire traditional family structure. That's how Deok-hoon reacts to the double play of his wife. But this also raises a question about whether he is applying a double standard.

Aside from the legitimacy and effectiveness of polyandry in Korea, it has long been reported that many Korean men are no strangers to polygamy. Back in the Joseon period, having second or third wife was not only possible but also socially acceptable for the upper class.

In modern Korea, men still venture out to form alternative relationship outside of marriage. In some cases, they get away with having a long-term affair. Their wives know for years that their husbands are cheating, but they never get divorced, citing children and other excuses. This might well be seen as a mutation of polygamy, but wayward husbands probably care little about such moral complications.

"My Wife Got Married" will certainly come as an eye-opening shocker for Korean men who secretly desire adulterous relationships and still espouse the patriarchal family system. The marriage system in this movie is apparently unrealistic, but all the emotions -- jealousy, helplessness, desire for spreading genes -- are unexpectedly realistic.

The great puzzle is In-ah's ability to love the two men equally. She's faithful to them at the same time, doing all the household chores and taking care of their emotional instability. In contrast, Deok-hoon believes that such multitasking is neither possible nor desirable. But Deok-hoon is also helpless because it is In-ah who calls the shots -- a reversal that will give a liberating feeling to female viewers, most, if not all, of whom have been brought up under a male-oriented family system.

"My Wife Got Married", which opens today nationwide, also showcases Son Ye-jin's disarming smile and natural beauty, and Kim Joo-hyuk's dedicated portrayal of a Korean husband who is poor at multitasking.

By Yang Sung-jin

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